Portbou inaugurates the Walter Benjamin library


Portbou inaugurates the Walter Benjamin library

bonart port ox - 20/02/23
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Portbou inaugurated the Walter Benjamin library on February 16 in the building of the old schools in the municipality. This is the first step, "the figurehead of a ship" in the form of a center dedicated to the figure of the German philosopher, who died in 1940 in this border town.

The works to reform the space have cost close to 130,000 euros and have been financed by the Diputació de Girona, the Ministry of Culture, the City Council and the Àngelus Novus foundation, which will manage the space and which has ceded the holdings of two libraries that he inherited from the translator Philippe Ivernel and the humanist Gian-Luigi Ponzano.

Walter Benjamin arrived in Portbou in 1940 fleeing Nazism and committed suicide there after the group of Jewish refugees he was part of was tracked down by the Gestapo. He wanted to go to the United States from Lisbon but got stuck in this small border town. A few hours after he was told that he was under arrest and that he would be deported to France because the Germans had requested his extradition, he was found dead in a room in the Fonda de France.

For years, Portbou has been trying to realize the Walter Benjamin House project to pay tribute to his figure and his history and thought. At the beginning of 2000, he was entrusted with the restoration of the building that was to host him, a modernist-style building that had housed the schools and the old town hall, to the architect Norman Foster, but, finally, it was discarded due to its high cost.

A few years later, in 2008, a second project was presented, which also failed. The building, made up of three naves, was built between 1910 and 1913 and was abandoned around the 1970s.

The first step to make it a reality is the opening of this library. The space, located in one of the building's naves, has been rehabilitated with an investment of nearly 130,000 euros and which has been financed on four sides. The Ministry of Culture has contributed 60,000 euros; 40,000 euros plus the Diputació de Girona and 22,000 euros the Ajuntament de Portbou. The foundation provided the furniture and documentation.

The library has about 4,500 books out of the 6,000 that contain the funds. The rest remain in boxes at the Town Hall, waiting to be placed in other areas of the library. Among the specimens, works of the philosopher but also of his historical context. They are part of the funds of the two donations the foundation has received, with more acquisitions made directly.

Its president, Pilar Parcerisas, says that Portbou is the place chosen to exhibit it not only because it was the place where Benjamin died but because of the importance it had with the passage of thousands of exiles during the Civil War. "From the foundation, which we keep up to date with Benjamin's bibliography and other context, what we want is for his memory to live on, as it has done so far without structure, and we want his fully valid thought to be here and can make it grow", he remarks.

Although the space is conceived as a library, Parcerisas has already advanced that it will go "much further" and that they have already made contacts with different universities to collaborate. In addition, they already have student group visits arranged and are considering other activities such as workshops, talks or book presentations.

The "prow figure of a great ship"

The mayor of the municipality, Xavi Barranco, has explained that the opening of the library is the "mascaron in the bow" of a big ship that must be the center dedicated to Benjamin and that they hope to make a reality in the future. In fact, the architectural project has already been executed by the architects Joan Falgueras and Jordi Pigem and it is expected that the work will cost around 2 MEUR.

The architectural project was entrusted to them, who have designed access ramps to the upper floors that would evoke the crossing of the Pyrenees by thousands of refugees, in 1939 to escape from the Francoist army, and from the 40s to escape from the Nazis , as was the case with Benjamin.

On the first floor, it is planned to locate the space for exhibitions, educational activities and photographic displays. And there will still be another space intended for research, residence and the celebration of events and educational programs and the roof will become a viewpoint. In the future, in addition, a footbridge could connect the building with the path that leads to the Memorial Passages de Dani Karavan monument, located on the esplanade of the cemetery and next to the future equipment.

Regarding deadlines, Barranco is optimistic and hopes that, now that the "path" has begun, administrations and private individuals will continue to be involved in the rest of the project. "It will serve to energize the cultural life, not only of Portbou but of Mar d'Amunt, Girona and the State and it will put us on the map", he insisted. In this sense, the president of the Provincial Council, Miquel Noguer, has already said that he will keep his commitment to make it a reality.

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